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Merced County Sheriff Posse selected for inauguration procession
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Congressman Jim Costa congratulates the Merced County Sheriff Posse on their selection to participate in the Inaugural Parade on Jan. 20. - photo by FRANKIE TOVAR/The Journal

The Merced County Sheriff Posse will prance down Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C. come January, as the group was selected to be part of the Inauguration Parade for Donald Trump.


Fifteen riders, along with their palomino horses, will take part in the procession, which features official inaugural floats, marching bands, cultural organizations, mounted units and members from all branches of the Armed Forces of the United States.


“I’m excited for the opportunity that we get to represent our local folks,” said Sheriff Vern Warnke, who will be riding with the posse in the parade. “This is a very good thing and I’m honored and humbled. We’re going to be the face of the county and most of the state at the parade.”


The Merced County Sheriff Posse was formed in 1948 and consists of all volunteer riders, who Warnke described as “goodwill ambassadors” of the county. Most riders reside in Merced County, and are from towns including Hilmar, Atwater, Stevinson and Merced. In the past, posse riders have been a part of search and rescue efforts, and many support the community through financial obligations as well.


The group participates in parades often, and this will be their fourth trip to Washington, D.C. The posse represented Merced County in the 1973 Inaugural Parade and the country’s bi-centennial parade in 1976, and were the only equestrians from California to be invited to participate in the Inaugural Parade for George W. Bush in 2005.


Leroy Vierra of Hilmar, Captain of the Sheriff Posse, rode in the inaugural parade in 2005 and is honored to once again have the opportunity.


“It’s something that I’ve done before and it’s just such a pleasure to be picked to go to such a big event and take the group with us,” said Vierra. “It’s quite an honor.”


Juanita and Rick Ellington, also from Hilmar, decided to join the Sheriff Posse after seeing their participation in George W. Bush’s inauguration. Rick was recovering from a knee replacement surgery and noticed the posse on TV; he joined the group shortly after, as did Juanita. Being a part of the upcoming Inaugural Parade is an privilege, said Juanita.


“To represent your county, to be an American and to ride down that road is huge because you’re carrying those colors,” she said. “It’s a huge honor and it touches my heart to carry that American flag.”


Aside from riding in the procession, the Sheriff Posse will receive a private tour of Congressman Jim Costa’s office as well as a private tour of the Capitol.


“Regardless of who won the election, we knew that this specific election was going to be history-making, and who doesn’t want to be a part of history?” said Warnke. “We’ve got some interesting and historic memories that we’re going to be making.”


The trip to Washington, D.C. will cost around $80,000, said Warnke. The Sherrif Posse is relying on both private and public donations, and there are three ways through which community members can donate. A Go Fund Me account has been set up for online donations, which can be accessed through the Merced County Sheriff Posse Facebook page, or donations can be mailed to the Sheriff’s Office at 700 W. 22nd St. in Merced. Or, those interested in helping out can also attend a fundraiser on Jan. 28 at the Elks Lodge in Merced, where for $25 attendees can enjoy an elegant day sipping on wine, eating cheese and mingling with the posse and elected officials.


The Sheriff Posse plans to leave for Washington, D.C. on either Jan 15 or 16.


“What an honor and privilege it’s going to be,” said Warnke. “We’re very tickled.”